sustainability

February 27, 2021
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We need to change the conversation we are having about climate change. Evidently, the current approach is not working. Far too many people doubt the impact humans have on our planet. If they do acknowledge that our climate is changing, the realities of environmental catastrophe remain removed, far-flung, a future generation’s problem. If the crisis is the future’s concern, after all, how could they not prioritize their home life, career, family’s health and safety, and passions? Humans are fundamentally selfish beings – our survival demands this. But what if subjective wellbeing and environmentalism were not at odds? In this case, it would be not only possible, but advisable, to prioritize sustainable living. Doing so ensures the most selfish of futures. This is the only opportunity for our progeny to continue human history, to prolong the influence of our species upon this universe.

If the wish is to wipe humanity off the face of the planet, following along our current trajectory of materialistic and mindless consumption is a safe bet for destruction. How would this happen? There is a pandemic of short-term thinking that plagues decision-makers and consumers in our world. In the near future, clearing an acre of forest to plant crops to feed your cowherd seems like a profitable and reasonable decision. No farmer is individually responsible for deforestation that increases toxic atmospheric gases, but they are not alone. With the colossal impact compounded by billions of humans demanding animal protein or fossil fuels, each unsustainable action pushes us further into the path of destruction. There are finite quantities of freshwater, oil, coal, topsoil, and precious earth minerals. We either adapt to the environmental and resource challenges before us, or we let them defeat us. 

We only have one planet. In the idealistic future painted by Elon Musk, there is a chance we may be able to colonize Mars. If this plan succeeds, it will require generations of investment, adaptation, and sacrifice. Early human settlers on Mars would live entirely indoors with brief excursions in specially crafted suits with artificial oxygen. They would not be able to breathe fresh air, grow plants in the ground, or experience wildlife in a natural habitat. Every experience on the Red Planet would be marred by careful scientific planning and precision. Gone would be the spontaneity entitled to humans on our home planet, the natural habit that has cradled our species throughout our existence. Certainly, any successful human colony on Mars would be an impressive and commendable feat. However, this should not encourage us to abandon Earth. The future of humanity on any planet requires immediate action to curb our emissions and change our lifestyles to conserve energy and resources. 

Why? What might a future look like where humans have abandoned any environmental concern? Let us paint a picture of environmental apathy. It is one we should carefully consider, as a refusal to act on this knowledge guarantees a grim future for everyone.

Let us imagine that environmentalists around the world cease and desist, instead pretending the planet will be fine. Earth will live on in some form, surely, she is a resilient rock; but how hospitable will the world be after humans have wrought all the havoc we are capable of wreaking? This practice takes little imagination. In fact, all we must do is look at current behaviours and consumption patterns around the globe, and imagine we add 3 billion more humans into the mix. Currently, the Earth disproportionately provides for 7.8 billion humans. By 2050, forecasts predict a global population of approximately 10 billion. Disparate growth and living standards indicate that coming years will see explosive demand for middle and upper class luxuries enjoyed by the western world. The needs and wants of humans in 2021 have already deforested the Amazon, depleted fisheries, extinguished wildlife, polluted waterways, paved over countless habitats. What further destruction could we reap before people wake up to the fault of our actions?

There is a fundamental disconnect between what we want, what society has told us we need to be happy, and what our planet can supply us with. Minimalism, consuming with a sustainable mindset; these are not austere activities of penance. Mindful consumption is necessary to ensure the future of our species. To provide for 10 billion humans, we must drastically reconsider our lifestyles. It is absolutely possible to be happy, successful, and live a fulfilling life while providing for your family without robbing the environment of all its natural glory. 

To meet the exponentially accelerating human demand, we have strained oil, phosphorus, freshwater, coal, natural gas and rare earth element reserves to near depletion. Within the next few decades, humanity’s fate will be sealed. We either face the threat of climate change and revolutionize our relationship with our planet, or life does not continue as we know it. Humanity might survive flooded coastlines, higher global temperatures, more frequent catastrophic weather events, toxic levels of atmospheric pollutants along with a litany of other problems too numerous to detail, however, there is another option that requires far less human sacrifice. 

The behaviour change sought by environmentalists requires a rapid reconditioning of deeply ingrained beliefs and practices. If our goal is to reimagine sustainable human societies that coexist with healthy, balanced and thriving ecosystems, that respect, rather than neglect the natural world, we must change our approach. After all, if you want to do something that has never been done, you must think and act in ways that have never been thought or done before. 

We ought to look to human societies that thrive without destroying their natural environment. There are many groups today and throughout history that have sustained their population without the use of fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and plastic. Environmentally-friendly living is possible and enjoyable, it simply requires a shift in values. The maintenance of the Earth we love is worth every small sacrifice. In switching to regenerative agriculture that heals the soil, choosing less carbon-intensive, healthier plant-based foods, and favouring low-energy transportation options like walking, bikes and public transportation, we will have a profoundly positive impact. Is it not worth it, to preserve the planet for future generations, so that they might know and understand the simple joy of Nature?


October 20, 2020
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Something fundamental changes when one becomes vegetarian. The active choice to forgo eating animals – to pursue a cruelty-free lifestyle – has the potential to unleash a domino effect on the rest of our behaviour.

A simple shift has taken place over the last several hundred years. Humans have migrated predominantly into cities. In these urban environments, we accrue material wealth. The middle class is a relatively new phenomenon. Monetizing every aspect of life, from morning to night, 24 /7, is the calling card of the 21st century shared experience. It is all too simple to unconsciously buy into (literally) the system of consumerism without questioning the methods that allowed businesses to economize on production at the expense of their workers in the first place. The western marketplace facilitates fast food, fast fashion, and fast living. In the tireless pursuit of convenience, ethics have fallen to the wayside.

Or have they? Entering this new decade, we are seeing a rapid displacement of the economic status quo. 2020 has been a cataclysmic shift for all. To survive the tectonic changes in economic activity that Covid-19 has generated, businesses across the globe have had to rapidly adjust. Agility, flexibility, and opportunism are key traits in the new business environment.

To meet evolving demands of the public, businesses must update their marketing, production, labour, and sustainability strategies. Consumers are more aware than ever before. The cosmic leap in communication that the internet has facilitated must not be taken for granted. Knowledge is empowerment in our digital age. The same platforms that have allowed individuals to educate themselves on compassionate living – whether it be choosing a vegetarian diet or any other ethical behaviour – can create accountability systems between businesses and their customer bases. Is social media merely a promotional platform? Not to the savvy marketer. A social page is the medium by which a business interacts with its customers. What is the precedent for this immediate feedback loop? Individuals in this digital renaissance of commerce have much more power than they realize. Opportunity abounds for empowered consumers to make informed purchases. With direct links to company representatives, buyers can be crystal clear about evolving concerns and requests. Flash and dazzle are no longer the keys to success; entrepreneurs must concretely prove they provide value. For this reason alone, we ought to be optimistic about the future of commerce.

How do compassionate individuals act in alignment with their moral codes, in the face of a chaotic marketplace of temptations? It bears consideration to distance oneself from the product or service. We must act with confidence and certainty when we know what is right or wrong. Vegetarians live by the radical code that innocent creatures do not deserve to suffer and be killed for ephemeral culinary pleasures. As this moral positioning affects several daily decisions, it becomes a staple of the herbivore’s identity. If you abstain from animal products or exploitation in several areas of your life, you already know the experience of carefully examining each potential purchase. The evolved consumer is so much more than a purchasing machine. She researches a company and its products. She consults reviews and online forums. Perhaps she explores the business’ labour practices. How do they treat their employees? Are they environmentally responsible? These vital questions are kryptonite to corrupt enterprises that have traditionally benefitted from consumer ignorance.

Ignorance has been weaponized by the greedy and heartless to ravage the natural world and exploit the less fortunate. In 2020, people have woken up. We no longer have to live in a world of thoughtless abundance. We are afraid of the impact that negligent companies can have on their workers, animals, the environment, and overall future. Today, we have the option to enlighten ourselves, and battle for a better future. Consumers have so much more power than we realize. If there is no demand for a cruel or faulty product, it will not continue to be produced. When we purchase from responsible, diligent, sustainable businesses, we actively contribute to building the world we would like to live in. We can thoughtfully question each buy; “does the low price seem too good to be true?”, “what is the estimated carbon footprint of this item?”, “did any animals have to die for me to enjoy this?”, “how does this company treat their workers?”, “are employees paid a living wage?”. A few moments’ pause for consideration can have a tremendous ripple effect. Those who seek out meatless options practice this exercise in compassion on a daily basis. These are concrete ways we can vote with our dollars and fight for a kinder world. We cannot wait until we have exhausted all our natural resources to act. Make the empowered decision to walk the walk, and the earth will thank you for it.

 


July 4, 2020
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What is this utopia that the extremists campaign for? Would it ever even be possible to diversify human behaviour, push our neighbours and friends to forgo the pleasures of eating animals for the good of all life on Earth?

The environmental realities of 2020 leave human societies with some very crucial decisions to make. Although it is no small challenge to overhaul global diets, significant adjustments may become necessary to ensure future human prosperity. We cannot ignore the deforestation, desertification, pollution, sea level rise, biodiversity loss and countless other global crises as we favour wealth, greed, pride, and inaction.

Many who have chosen to follow a vegetarian or plant-based diet feel that meat consumption is linked to a larger carbon footprint (mainly due to the larger proportion of land needed to support livestock, in growing their feed and providing grazing/pasture land). In fact, in 2019 the UN and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that drastically reducing worldwide consumption of animal products will help curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Livestock require more freshwater, land, and grain than the calories they provide. By 2050, Earth will face the enormous challenge of providing enough food and freshwater for 10 billion people. Even if one completely ignores the ethical realities of factory farms, the future of humanity depends on a radical dietary change.

If every person on planet Earth adopted a plant-based diet, global food-related emissions would drop by 70%. This could be a massive boon to the economy, as these emissions are valued at more than $700 billion. The diet of a meat-eater requires 17 times more land, 14 times more water and 10 times more energy than a vegetarian’s, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In facing the demographic and environmental realities of our changing world, we must not ignore these remarkable statistics. As we learn to accommodate billions more humans within a planet of already dwindling and poorly distributed resources, any strategy that encourages energy, land and water conservation while saving billions of lives should be the obvious choice.

The populations of our favourite livestock species; cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, etc., grossly outweigh natural ecosystem levels. This was facilitated by removing these animals out of their habitats and sheltering them in human habitats for our own gain. Interfering to such a drastic degree in the population levels of these animals has had a profound effect on biodiversity levels of non-domesticated species, their habitats desecrated to serve the ever-expanding territory of factory farms.

Without the steep subsidies that fund cruel, overzealous slaughterhouses and meatpacking companies which enable them to keep consumer prices absurdly low and continue to profit off of torture, governments may actually be able to subsidize healthy plant foods for their citizens. Livestock subsidies could be redirected towards regenerative farming initiatives, support wildflower replanting efforts to provide pollinator habitats, and fund food programs for the food-insecure.

Additionally, as the over-consumption of meat is linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity, the move away from this diet could save billions in healthcare costs, or trillions globally. Heart disease and strokes alone cost the American healthcare system almost $200 billion annually. It is also worth accounting for the lost economic productivity that the sick populations could have otherwise provided. As a smaller country with a socialized medical system, Canada spends more than $20 billion on cardiovascular disease through direct and indirect costs. With a healthier population adequately nourished by plant foods, countries could redirect the exorbitant health expenditures towards more practical investments. The most vulnerable and poorest communities could be supported by national health and nutrition programs. Reorganizing and redistributing investments in food security could be particularly advantageous to the indigenous peoples of Canada’s North. The Inuit are considered by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to have “the highest documented food insecurity rate for any aboriginal population in a developed country”. In 2014, almost 47% of households in Nunavut were reported as food-insecure.

Collected savings from healthcare and animal agriculture will not only support the millions suffering from food insecurity but will ultimately fund relief efforts for the negative implications of climate change. We all deserve an egalitarian society that cares for its suffering and vulnerable populations, while providing everyone with the option for a healthier future. This future is not only possible – it will be for the betterment of billions of lives. 700 million people do not need to live on less than $2 USD a day. Our planet has ample resources to provide for sensible, conscious lifestyles for 10 billion humans, we need only adjust our standards of consumption. A better world is possible when cruel, unsustainable, selfish behaviours are left behind. When we value the lives of animals and respect the environment, we can ensure the livelihood of future generations and reverse the catastrophic climate change that would otherwise doom us.


March 25, 2020
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The world is on lockdown – it’s epidemic time. In a few short weeks, the previously dismissable coronavirus has gone from a benign Chinese contagion to a global monolith with grave health and economic implications. 

Coronavirus is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. We have a careless attitude towards our planet. Although this Earth is our home, we do not value it for everything it provides us. The reason we are here today with such prosperity and “infinite growth” is because we ravaged our planet. We have got it completely wrong. In this mindless quest to satisfy every desire, we have doomed our own species’ future livelihood. 

The Earth cannot sustain the harsh demands of our bloated industrial and technological empire.  Our greedy lifestyles have evolved to strip innumerable natural resources from our planet and doom entire ecosystems.  

Nothing about our current way of life is natural or sustainable. Merely the fact that there are nearly 8 billion people with economic activity that creates widespread extinction events shows how unreasonable we’ve become. So many of our daily habits are toxic to our home environment. 

One should consider our lifestyles in comparison to the rest of the animal kingdom to grasp how absurd we truly are. We are too many revolutions removed from a lifestyle that our ancestors thrived in. It would be simple for someone to defend our current society – to talk about progress, technology, communications illuminating our lives. However, the lives we enjoy in the 21st century came at a steep price that we are still paying. 

Even Vancouver, our seaside gem of glass and emerald, suffers from chronic issues that bear healthy consideration. The wealth disparity between the West Hastings penthouses and the street markets of Strathcona is unsettling to say the least. Our neighbours are experiencing debilitating poverty, yet we consider the vulnerable in our population no more than a nuisance. We have rejected the condition and environment of our natural human communities. Cities of 1 to 20 million people are the norm, yet alienating to our natural state. 

Simply put, we have overcomplicated our lives. Monks and Buddhists, ascetics and minimalists are seen as extremists, while the lawyers, bankers, and politicians are the everyday-man. We are ignorant and careless regarding the natural world, when in fact it should be our first priority. We do not value the plants and animals, the environment around us when we would be nothing without them. 

Technology has bought us time; it has bought us Band-Aid solutions, but one must only peak at the chaos that is unfolding around us in March 2020 to understand that there’s a fundamental issue in the way we operate our lives. 

We ought to take stock of our immediate surroundings – to disconnect ourselves from the world economy to build self-reliance. Our global network brought a pandemic, a climate disaster, countless wars, and countless other casualties. We have alienated ourselves from our innate condition and forgot every aspect of what used to anchor us to our ecosystems. How could people be healthy when they’re fed deep-fried battery-cage chicken tenders, greasy fries, “diet” cokes, and carcinogens wrapped up in deli rolls? Our diets in the West are not nutritious. They have nothing to do with their local environments, and rely on society’s love of convenience and speed to barely fuel our busy lives. 

Once this virus runs its course, we have to reassess. We ought to seriously consider how we source our food, clothing, raw materials, technology, and household products. The origins of these possessions define our global economic system. We are mutually dependent. This has spelled success for many a businessman and export-oriented economy, yet with a tangible cost that may be too much for us to bear. The shock waves of our irresponsible lifestyles reverberate throughout the world to the tune of COVID-19. This pandemic ought to be the wake-up call we need to live more mindfully, sustainably, and well. Once the social isolation measures are relaxed, we have a tremendous opportunity to source more food locally, support our local economy, and build community resilience. These changes are absolutely possible and beneficial in our ongoing fight against climate change as global health scares radically shake up every societal norm we once took for granted. 


January 11, 2020
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We have a waste problem. To anyone with even a cursory understanding of human consumption patterns, it is frustratingly apparent that we use and dispose of things in the worst way possible. In our mad dash for riches, to cram our lives with possessions to distract and numb ourselves, we have left behind reason and sense. 

To have any hope of remedying this metastasizing issue, we must completely overhaul our relationship with things. Why? To give the planet a fighting chance in the war against climate change. 

When buying gifts for others or items for ourselves, we ought to be mindful of the manufacturing process and consumerism we are actively enabling. When we shop the biggest brands, our hard-earned money goes directly to supporting the corporations in their ongoing assault of the planet’s natural resources, while lining the bulging pockets of the wealthiest individuals.

As we accumulate unnecessary knick knacks, we fill our homes with useless garbage that doesn’t sustain us but distracts us. Far too frequently, these toys, decorations, novelty mugs, $5 t-shirts, etc. follow a damning path from big box store, to a brief period of glory used for its intended purpose, before their truly nefarious fate is realized. When discarded, these items either add to the endless accumulation within a landfill or they occupy the overflowing shelves of a secondhand shop, destined to curse another’s home. Best case scenario, someone finds true value in this hastily manufactured thing. However, we would be ignorant to believe this happens to every piece of junk that once graced our lives. 

Unfortunately, the manufacturing-marketing-buying-accumulating complex operates on far too grand a scale to be remedied by passing off a few possessions here and there to Salvation Army. We need systematic change within several industries to pull this off. More importantly, consumer culture at large must be disrupted. The intent is not to dismantle people’s generosity or hobbies, but to elicit a healthy reconsideration of why we buy what we buy. It’s a worthwhile question to ponder as our environment suffers the consequences of our thoughtlessness. There is simply too much production of disposable and cheap products for a sustainable recycling system to do more than band-aid our waste problem. 

The global shift towards urban living has radically changed the norm for billions of humans. While our ancestors subsisted off the land for millennia, either foraging, hunting, cultivating crops, the city lifestyle of services and automated production has severed us from responsibility and knowledge of self-sufficiency. 

A longitudinal analysis of British children reported that teenagers raised in the city were twice as likely to experience psychosis as those from rural environments. Factors such as the lack of neighbourhood cohesion, social isolation, pollution, noise, and exposure to higher crime rates are associated with depression, anxiety and mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. City life is primarily characterized by removal. We are not involved in the production of our own food, limiting our sense of ownership and challenging the very nature of what historically made us human. Of course our food system is dysfunctional, it relies on our ignorance and greed. We have more abundance and indulgence at our fingertips than ever before, but this bounty comes at a great price to ecological stability and our own health. 

One could easily argue that all our subsequent technological and information revolutions have done little to serve us. Naturally, our lives on the whole appear to be much richer than our ancestors. Blind nature would suggest that we have succeeded in the Darwinian battle for domination of our habitat. Infant mortality has plummeted in the last few decades, our population has exploded to nearly 8 billion, we have unprecedented access to food, energy, and the ability to cure or combat diseases that could paralyze less sophisticated civilizations. Yet with all these gifts, we concurrently ravage the very planet we depend on in the mindless quest for more. 

To make it through the climate crisis that poses one of the greatest known risks to humanity, we need to reassess, redirect and refuse that which does not serve us. As diverse as our interests are across the world, as different as our perspectives may be, the ongoing health of Earth is a genuine call for unification. Rich and poor, right and left, every race, creed and culture – we all suffer from a neglected environment and benefit from a healthy one. 

To fix our grand predicament, we need to face the reality of our behaviour. Removal has enabled our apathy, but this sentiment is unsustainable in every sense of the word. The future of our species cannot afford our prolonged ignorance. It is time for governments, businesses, and individuals to hold themselves accountable for their actions. Consumers can question what they buy and which companies they support – fortunately we have the internet to inform us and provide transparency. Businesses should be scrutinized for their practices, while governments are kept in check by the collaboration of concerned citizens who actively strive for a better world that benefits future generations. No longer should it be our priority to consume more, more, more, but to critically think about what kind of world we are leaving for our children. The world is burning, glaciers are melting, and the ocean is brimming with plastic. Is this the legacy we want to create? 

 

Documentaries and Resources for further study: 

The True Cost

Broken: “Recycling Sham”

 


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